Mayor’s Post Left Out Of Fire Marshal Process

OCEAN CITY – The City Council passed a handful of ordinances on second reading by an unanimous vote except for one concerning the involvement of the mayor in the hiring process of the new fire marshal.

The ordinance on the table amended the current code, which allows for the Fire Prevention Commission to submit recommended names for the fire marshal position to the mayor for appointment and is voted on by the council. It excludes the city fire chief, the city manager and the normal employee hiring/promoting and succession planning process.

Fire Chief Chris Larmore has made numerous changes in updating and consolidating the three divisions of Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company, Fire/EMS, and the Office of the Fire Marshal under one organizational structure of the Ocean City Fire Department in the last few years. A few weeks ago, he recommended having the hiring of the fire marshal fall under the same organization. Long-time Fire Marshal Sam Villani is retiring.

Mayor Rick Meehan pointed out that the amendment removed his authority from the decision-making process. Meehan suggested keeping the mayor involved and instead adding the council, so that the Mayor and City Council would be included in the vote.

“It is a public safety position,” he said. “The mayor does have a vote on the police chief, and what I would like to see you do is amend this so that you don’t remove the mayor from the process but you change it so it is done at the recommendation of the city manager and not the fire commission, which I think is the attempt here.”

Councilwoman Margaret Pillas disagreed with the mayor’s suggestion, saying it goes against all attempts in keeping hiring processes consistent.

“With all due respect, it has been my effort to try and make everything move the way all departments are run, not the way one department is run,” she said. “That is to exclude you from the process and just leave it between the city manager and the City Council.”

Meehan rebutted that it is more practical to add the council into the equation instead of continuing to reduce the powers of the mayor.

Councilwoman Mary Knight set the motion to amend the amendment by not eliminating the mayor from the hiring process of the fire marshal but instead add the council. The motion was voted down in a 3-4 vote, with Joe Hall, Brent Ashley, Jim Hall and Margaret Pillas in opposition.

“Well then maybe we should add the mayor to all of them,” Councilman Lloyd Martin said in reference to keeping consistency in the hiring process of all department heads.

Once the council had completed the rest of Monday night’s agenda, Councilman Joe Hall asked to return to the ordinance that had been left undecided upon and offered a motion to pass it as presented, eliminating the mayor.

Larmore pointed out the code amendment is a time sensitive issue since the current fire marshal is scheduled to retire.

“I really feel that the mayor should be part of this decision-making process,” Knight said in explaining her vote in opposition.

The council voted 4-3 with council members Doug Cymek, Lloyd Martin, and Mary Knight in opposition to approve the ordinance as presented, which finalizes the procedure in having the city manager recommend a fire marshal and to be approved by the council.

Meehan will still have a say in the hiring of the new fire marshal since he now also serves as city manager due to the forced resignation of prior City Manager Dennis Dare.